“Poker Night” brings to mind so many forgettable thrillers from the 1990s, films that aimed to impress stylistically but ultimately were met with indifference.
Here, newly promoted Warsaw, Ind., police detective Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) unwittingly falls into a trap set by a masked kidnapper (Michael Eklund). While drugged, tortured and kept in a dungeon, Jeter ruminates about the on-the-job anecdotes shared by veteran cops (among them Ron Perlman, Giancarlo Esposito and Ron Eldard) over a game of poker that was part of his initiation.
Most thrillers consistently invest in establishing the pathologies and motivations of the perpetrators, but writer-director Greg Francis instead distracts us with a matryoshka nesting doll of non-sequitur flashbacks within flashbacks. Despite his extensive work in television, Francis tricks out “Poker Night” with freeze-frame, slow motion and split screen like an overeager recent film-school grad. He also loads the script with expletives and procedural tough-guy speak for good measure.
Francis has a few moments of inspiration, nonchalantly deploying visual gags. If he were going for cult status, perhaps gonzo is the way to go. The rest of his stylistic flaunts, plot twists and contrivances are joyless.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.